This amazing herbal sweetner is up to 30 times sweeter than sugar, yet are almost calorie free. Plant has small toothed leaves, white flowers in the late summer and is slightly woody. Perennial in zones 9-10 as it is an annual everywhere else. Plant is 1' tall. Dry leaves and use in hot or cold drinks, or you can use it like a bay leaf to sweeten meats or vegetables. Grind the dried leaves and sprinkle onto your cereal or other cold dishes as you would sugar. This is a wholesome alternative to processed sugar or chemically-derived artificial sweeteners. Stevia is now becoming more popular among health-conscious individuals. (Package 20 Seeds).
Although Stevia is not considered a real easy herb to grow, it has shown to be quite adaptable and capable of being cultivated in climate zones as diverse as Florida and southern Canada.
If this is your first time growing Stevia follow the tips below.
- Surface sow seed 8 weeks before last frost date or anytime if you plan to grow inside. You can germinate using gentle bottom heat. Provide good drainage and make sure you do not over water. Plant outside after all risk of frost is past, 8 inches apart into a full sunny location. If you want to over winter the plants inside, make sure you remove from your garden before the fall season temperature gets cold. Excellent in containers. Use the leaves, fresh or dried, or directly in hot drinks. You can use ground powder or liquid in baking or desserts. Plant will grow up to 24 inches high.
- Stevia should be planted in the spring after the soil temperature reaches 65 deg F., in full sun and in a light, sandy, open, well drained soil with neutral pH. In southern states, stevia will require some filtered afternoon shading. Use a standard food safe garden fertilizer. Do not use a lawn fertilizer or fertilizers with high nitrogen. By adding extra Boron you will help keep the Stevioside level high. By mounding up your beds to a raised bed, this will be beneficial for your plants. By applying a layer of mulch, such as grass clippings, or bark mulch. you will help keep the roots cool, preserve water, and it keeps the leave clean from soil (prevents dirty taste in green powder) and it also holds down the weeds. However, do avoid weeding around mature stevia plants as their brittle branches are easily broken. Avoid over watering after transplanting and in winter as houseplant, as your loss will be high and you will not get good germination either. Keep evenly moist during summer heat. You can use a drip or soaker hose, as they are very effective for summer watering and keeping your plant alive, but as before do not over water..
- You can harvest the entire plant as soon as flower buds appear. Make sure you harvest only in the morning for highest glycoside /sugar content, whether by pinching the tips or the entire plant. Timing for your full harvest will occur in late September or early October, as it is a member of the Aster family and once the flowering has begun, not a single normal leaf will be produced. Removing flower heads will not be effective. Failure to harvest plants before several flowers have opened, will give you a bitter/dirty flavor to the leaves. Harvesting is done by cutting the entire plant at the base, then with a rubber band, tie the loose branches together and hang upside down to dry under warm, dark, with a lot of air circulation for 2-4 days. Do not use food dehydrators or open oven doors as this will also tend to cause a bitter flavor. You want a sweet flavor only. Remove any small branches and grind leaves into powder using an electric coffee grinder for 25-30 seconds. Do not use food processors as they are not as effective in this case as their slow RPMs of the motor will ruin the leaves as you are trying to make powder. Dried green stevia powder will last almost indefinitely or at least until the next harvest.
- Leaves –either raw or cooked have a very sweet flavor. The leaves contain 'stevioside', a substance that is 300 times sweeter than sucrose. We have read many other reports that say they contain 'estevin' a substance that, weight for weight, is about 150 times sweeter than sugar. Your dried leaves can be ground and used as a sweetener or soaked in water and the liquid used in making preserves. The powdered leaves are also added to herb teas. The leaves are sometimes chewed by those wishing to reduce their sugar intake. The leaves can also be cooked and eaten as a vegetable. Many who hesitate to consume artificial food additives may prefer stevia because it is all natural. Stevia is calorie free, and therefore does not impact blood sugar levels, unlike sucrose (refined sugar). Stevia, when used in place of sugar, may also reduce the incidence of tooth decay.